Jeffery Hess: I enjoyed reading your story The Edge of Water, about a veteran returning home from the war in Iraq. You and I both served in the military, and one thing I learned during my time in the service is that people enlist for very different reasons. Can you tell us when and why you enlisted?
Kevin Jones: I joined the Marine Corps in May of 1990. At the time I was living in a small, studio apartment and trying (unsuccessfully) to attend community college. I worked for an art house movie theatre making minimum wage which, while very cool, did not let me eat as much or as often as I would have liked. I had several friends who joined the military right out of high school and they seemed to be doing well, so one day I went to visit a recruiter to see what he had to say. The biggest attraction to the Marines, as opposed to the other services, was that they were offering a challenge. Could I complete boot camp? The other services talked about bonuses or job training or college funds, but the Marine Corps offered none of that. They told me up front that boot camp would be the most difficult thing I’d ever done, if I even finished, and that had a strong, reverse-psychological way of attracting me. In short, I was looking for a way to prove myself, even if I didn’t know who I was trying to prove myself to. The Marine Corps offered that in a way, to me, that none of the other branches did.
JH: When we were talking earlier, you mentioned that you had an epiphany while home on leave: your sister helped you discover Henry Rollins at an indie record shop and this made you realize you had to become a writer. Can you elaborate on this formative occasion?
KJ: After I graduated from the School of Infantry I was sent, almost immediately, to Saudi Arabia and Operation Desert Storm. When I returned from the war, I had some block leave and went back to Sacramento (my home town) and tried to re-adjust. My sister was going to college and ran around with a group of actors and filmmakers and she had discovered Henry Rollins while I was overseas. While on leave she’d gone to Tower Books and bought me “Black Coffee Blues” and “See a Grown Man Cry.” I’d been writing here and there all my life but without any real focus. Reading Rollins made me realize that if I wanted to write, I just needed to do it, and that there was no “wrong” way to write. It was the sort of muscular, no BS, no excuses kind of attitude that dovetailed perfectly with my service as a Marine, and I’ve pretty much been writing nonstop, in one form or another, since reading those books.
JH: Your characters often have military backgrounds but are not necessarily based on your experience. What is it about the military that you find makes for compelling characters?
KJ: I like the idea of characters thrust into situations they cannot get out of and forced to work with people they might otherwise not have anything to do with. I also like writing about organizations with very specific cultures, rules, and languages. The military, obviously, fits this interest, as do law enforcement, medicine, academia, and a host of other areas. For whatever reason, I’ve had more success with military themed stores than with other works I’ve written.
JH: Your current position in education involves the military. And your plans after completing your doctorate do as well. How so?
KJ: I’m finishing a PhD in Educational Policy at the University of Florida right now and I’m researching how military veterans make the transition from combat to higher education. What is that process? How do they adapt? How does the experience change them and how do they change the colleges and universities they attend? I founded the Student Veterans of America chapter at the university where I teach and am involved with several veterans groups at campuses across Florida as well. According to some estimates, there are going to be over a million and a half veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan leaving the military in the next few years. I’m a firm believer in higher education as a means to help these people successfully transition back to civilian life and move forward with their lives.
JH: That sounds like an excellent project, Kevin. Thanks for sharing your time with us. It’s been a very interesting discussion. And readers, stay tuned: on Wednesday we turn the tables and Kevin interviews me.